Honey has the potential to make brain-like computer chips – WSU Insider

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Honey could be a sweet spot for developing environmentally friendly components for neuromorphic computers, systems designed to mimic the neurons and synapses found in the human brain.

Hailed by some as the future of computing, neuromorphic systems are much faster and consume far less power than traditional computers. Engineers at Washington State University demonstrated a way to make them more organic, too. In a study published in Journal of Physics Dresearchers show that honey can be used to make a memristor, a transistor-like component that can not only process but also store data in memory.

“It’s a very small device with a simple structure, but it has very similar functionality to a human neuron,” said Feng Zhao, associate professor of the School of Engineering and Computer Science. of WSU and corresponding author of the study. “This means that if we can integrate millions or billions of these honey memristors together, then they can be turned into a neuromorphic system that functions much like a human brain.

For the study, Zhao and first author Brandon Sueoka, a WSU graduate student in Zhao’s lab, created memristors by turning honey into a solid form and sandwiching it between two metal electrodes, creating a structure similar to a human synapse. They then tested the ability of honey memristors to mimic the work of synapses with high turn-on and turn-off speeds of 100 and 500 nanoseconds respectively. Memristors also emulated synapse functions known as spike-time-dependent plasticity and spike-rate-dependent plasticity, which are responsible for learning processes in the human brain and retention of new information in cells. neurons.

WSU engineers created the honey memristors on a micro-scale, so they’re about the size of a human hair. The research team led by Zhao plans to grow them down to the nanometer scale, about 1/1000 of a human hair, and aggregate many millions, if not billions, to create a complete neuromorphic computing system.

Currently, conventional computer systems are based on what is called the von Neumann architecture. Named after its creator, this architecture involves an input, usually from a keyboard and mouse, and an output, such as the monitor. It also has a processor or central processing unit and RAM or memory storage. Transferring data through all of these mechanisms, from input to memory processing to output, requires a lot of power, at least compared to the human brain, Zhao said. For example, the Fugaku supercomputer uses over 28 megawatts, roughly equivalent to 28 million watts, to operate while the brain only uses about 10 to 20 watts.

The human brain has over 100 billion neurons with over 1,000 trillion synapses, or connections, among them. Each neuron can both process and store data, making the brain much more efficient than a traditional computer, and developers of neuromorphic computing systems aim to mimic this structure.

Several companies, including Intel and IBM, have released neuromorphic chips that have the equivalent of more than 100 million “neurons” per chip, but that’s not yet close to the number in the brain. Many developers are also still using the same non-renewable and toxic materials that are currently used in conventional computer chips.

Many researchers, including Zhao’s team, are looking for biodegradable and renewable solutions to use in this promising new type of computing. Zhao is also researching the use of proteins and other sugars such as those found in Aloe vera leaves in this capacity, but he sees great potential in honey.

“Honey doesn’t spoil,” he said. “It has a very low concentration of moisture, so bacteria cannot survive there. This means that these computer chips will be very stable and reliable for a very long time.

The Honey Memristor chips developed at WSU are expected to tolerate the lower levels of heat generated by neuromorphic systems that don’t get as hot as traditional computers. Honey memristors will also reduce electronic waste.

“When we want to get rid of devices using computer chips made of honey, we can easily dissolve them in water,” he said. “Because of these special properties, honey is very useful for creating renewable and biodegradable neuromorphic systems.”

It also means, Zhao warned, that just like conventional computers, users will still need to avoid spilling their coffee on them.

This research is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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